East Valley Academy in Mesa Steadfastly Refuses Common Core and AZMerit!

Janet Ryan, principal of East Valley Academy, a public charter school for grades K-6, has better things to do than to administer AZMerit.  When you see some of those “better things" she’s doing, you’ll understand why.  Ms. Ryan states, “The writing portion of the AzMerit Test is completely age inappropriate, and there is much in the test that was hastily thrown together.” 

In fact, none of the parents of her 3-6 graders want their children to take the test, and they have all signed the Opt-Out form (see below).

East Valley Academy, an A rated public charter located in Mesa, focuses on the joy of learning, not technology tools.  You won’t find any computers. This philosophy, by the way, is shared by one of the top private schools in the country:  Waldorf.  Waldorf is where Silicon Valley’s executives send their children.  It was also the school that Steve Jobs chose for his own kids.   

According to Ms. Ryan and her husband Ken, who teaches at EVA:

“Nothing we do at East Valley Academy resembles Common Core.  Our kindergarteners can read by Christmas.  Common Core no longer teaches cursive.  We have first graders who write in Calvert script – a transitional form of cursive that is neat and very beautiful.  French schools do not teach children to print. Kids there learn cursive in kindergarten.

"Our K-2 graders color Navajo rug designs, and in the music program, study rhythm/percussion instruments, sections of the orchestra, categories of instruments (how they make sound), use Carl Orff instruments (xylophones, metallophones, drums), and participate in music appreciation.  They also study bee colony collapse and the crisis in pollination, ancient Native American peoples, oceanography, world religions, geography, history, and science (anatomy, geology, astronomy, etc.) at their grade level.

"In K-2, we study standard algorithms, mathematical operations (including addition, subtraction and some multiplication and simple division).  Math study also includes time, money, number theory, calendrics, measurement, and the history of mathematics.

"Since we offer a full curriculum to K-2, they study science and social studies at their level.

“In studying ancient Greece, our students in grades 3-6 learn the Greek alphabet and a vocabulary of over three hundred words. In addition to the language, we also study Greek mythology, philosophy, history, art, and architecture, as well as the Homeric epics, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” For their last graded report (August-December), students wrote a bio-poem of one of their favorite characters from Greek history or mythology.

“Our 3-6 graders just finished a unit on world religions and philosophies that shape human behavior, families, and society.  This included an overview of the three monotheistic religions (our students know this word comes from the Greek):  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto.  Students in grades 3-6 also complete a unit on economics every year, so the students learn how to make a budget, balance a check book, and use (or not use) a credit card responsibly.   They also study live blood cells with dark field microscopy; read four classics ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", "Tarzan of the Apes", and "The Time Machine"), complete thousands of spelling and vocabulary words; study longitude and latitude, and other basic topics in geography, as well as grammar, and write a short story. They also learn to play “Ode to Joy” and “Scarborough Fair” on recorders.

"Grades 3-6 learn standard algorithms; the history of mathematics from Babylonian/Mesopotamian times through the Greeks and ancient India; number theory, time, money and measurement problems. 

"Our sixth graders always go on to seventh grade prepared for Algebra I or at least pre-algebra.

“They also learn American history and government, and the Constitution.  We apply their study of civics with real projects like petitioning the state legislature recently about saving the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum. See SB1200.  Our EVA students also wrote letters to state representatives asking for a redress of grievances.  Included with the letters were pictures they had drawn from their earth science class including the ores of copper, chondrites (meteorites), sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, metals, organic gemstones, and fossils.

“All students receive a citizenship pin for passing the same test that the State Department/Immigration and Naturalization requires of legal immigrants seeking citizenship.  We require a score of 80% or better in order for our 3-6 graders to earn their citizenship pin.  

We give an oral citizenship test of 50 questions to K-2 students, so they can also earn a citizenship pin.  They must get 40 out of the 50 questions correct.  These questions may include things like flag symbolism (how many stars are on the American flag and what do they represent; how many stripes on the American flag and what do they represent), as well as who wrote the Declaration of Independence and who was the first American president, etc.  

"You may recall that Governor Ducey recently signed legislation which requires high school seniors only a minimal 60% pass rate for the 100 question test to graduate. 

See Gov. Ducey signs High School Civics test bill into Law

“In studying any social studies or science subject, we present it in gestalt – because that is how children learn best, and it helps them make connections if they can see the whole picture.  For example, in studying Hawaii, we study the geology of volcanoes (how the islands were formed), the language, the Polynesian people, the culture, art, music, religion, and economy. 

"Our 3–6 graders requested a unit this year on World War I and II and the cold war and what led up to them."   

“All age groups (K-6 grade) participate in the drama program, so all children have a part in all plays we present. We have performed many plays, including Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” We sponsor a “star party” every April.  We invite the East Valley Astronomy Club to come and set up their telescopes in our parking lot and have all the students come out with their families for star and moon viewing.  It is sometimes the first time that the parents and other members of the children’s family have ever had the opportunity to view the rings of Saturn or the craters of the moon. 

“You and your readers are invited to this year’s star party on Tuesday night, March 31 at 7:30 PM.

“We take several field trips each year.  We have visited the Sinaguan ruins of Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle and Well, as well as the Hohokam canals and the Hohokam ruins of Casa Grande and Pueblo Grande.

“Our art projects include drawing still-lifes, landscapes and seascapes, the human form, animals, compositions using warm and cool colors, three dimensional drafting (e.g., the Greek Parthenon), silhouettes, and self-portraits.

"Currently, we have a mom who comes in once a week to give Mandarin Chinese lessons."

Ms. Ryan states that this is not an exhaustive list of what is taught at EVA, but gives you an idea of some of the things the students learn and experience.  Some parents who also have children of high school-age say that their East Valley Academy elementary student knows more than their high school student. 

EVA students are tested rigorously and often in all of their subject areas.  Students who are unable to complete the work satisfactorily are held back.  In fact, according to Ms. Ryan, many parents have asked that their children be held back, because they were not achieving in the public school they came from.  "After being with us for three or four years, the students have not only caught up to level in their subjects but also have exceeded the standards," states Mr. Ryan.

"We anticipate flack from the state about not administering AzMerit – perhaps they’ll take away our funding or close our doors.  For parents who are interested in our school, please contact us at 480-610-1711."

                                                  Letter of Assertion to Opt Out and Refuse the AZMerit Test


Dear Principal _____________________ and Superintendent_____________________,


I do not want my child, _____________________________, to take the AZMerit test, or any other tests based on the CCSS. I oppose having my child’s range of intellectual and emotional qualities measured by standardized tests. I am dissatisfied with these tests because they don’t measure meaningful learning, they create inappropriate pressures on children, they create counterproductive rivalry among schools, they’re responsible for less engaging education because teachers feel compelled to raise the scores by “teaching to the test” and finally, better forms of assessment are available, such as portfolio assessments.

I also object on moral grounds to standardized tests contributing to discrimination, increasing pupil alienation, and spurring unsuccessful students to drop out. I find standardized testing socially unconscionable –leading to gate keeping and perpetuating social segregation. In addition, I object to the personally identifiable data collection that will be obtained on my child via the AZMerit test and stored in the State Wide Longitudinal Data Systems and managed through the U.S. Department of Education and distributed among companies and organizations who have taken part in the development and implementation of the CCSS and related assessments. Data collected on my child, without my permission, is in violation of the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

As a concerned parent with the responsibility and right to be involved in the academic training of my child (Arizona Revised Statute 15–102), it is within my legal and moral right to opt out of standardized testing and insist upon better ways of evaluating my child’s understanding of ideas.

I request useful assessments which advance fairness, accuracy, quality, and equity: evaluations such as the Learning Record (analysis of students’ learning over time by a teacher who knows them well), work sampling over time, structured and informal observations and interviews, performance and exhibitions, audio and videotapes, portfolio and journal assessments, and evaluation including input from teachers, students, parents, counselors, and principals. I am also against any tests, where graded results are not given to the students so that they may see their mistakes and learn from them.

I would ask that the school please provide an alternative activity for my child during administrative sessions of testing (not makeup tests, as my child will be in his/her regular classroom environment during makeup test). However, I understand that an alternative activity is not required on the part of the school. If you are unable to provide an alternative activity for my child, I would ask that you please allow my child to read silently. I am reserving the option of removing my child from school during the test administration session depending on the emotional anxiety of my child on the day of refusal and whether or not the school will provide appropriate alternate activities for my child.

Thank you very much. I am looking forward to the remainder of the school year.


Signature of parent/guardian